DataScience Workbook / 03. Setting Up Computing Machine / 2. Must-Have Software / 2.1 Basic Office Software


Basic Software for Easy Daily Work

Office Productivity Software

Written communication is required in almost every informatics position. The majority of individuals that we will be communicating results will be using either Microsoft Office Word or Apple’s Pages.

  • Apple Suite (Keynote, Numbers, Pages) should be pre-installed on your MacBook Pro.
  • Microsoft Office Suite is available at The Iowa State community can download the entire toolkit with a free academic license through Okta Application Dashboard, available at Once the package is downloaded, the automatic installer will guide you through the process. New tools will be available in the Applications on your Mac. Along with the MS package you will be equipped with office tools:
    • Word - a word processing software, which offers DOC/DOCX formats,
    • Excel - a spreadsheet creator, which features calculation or computation capabilities, graphing tools, and pivot tables,
    • Powerpoint - a presentation and slideshow maker,
    • Teams - business communication platform, offering workspace chat and videoconferencing, file storage, and application integration,
    • OneNote - a note-taking program for free-form information gathering and multi-user collaboration.

Adobe for Graphic and Design

Adobe Inc. delivers comprehensive solutions for digital media, including Video, Design, Photography, and the Web. The applications can be installed from the Creative Cloud platform. Iowa State has a license for these apps in Okta Application Dashboard, available at Otherwise, it is ~$30/month for students/faculty.

Along with the Adobe package you will be equipped with professional tools dedicated for:

  • Photoshop - editing Photos
  • Illustrator - editing figures
  • Acrobat DC - PDF visualization and signing documents
  • InDesign - multipage graphic/text

TIPS: I use the first three more than InDesign.

Screen Capture & Video Editors

Screenshots can be a quick and effective way to capture important information. For the scientist, it also allows for the preparation of educational materials and quality tutorials that enhanced with graphic visualizations facilitate the assimilation of knowledge by the recipients.
If your intent is to generate tutorials or create video content of your results then you will want some kind of screen capture and video editing software. For very generic screen capture you can use the built-in screen capture or download QuickTime. But if you are planning on generating more professional videos more frequently, I would recommend the following software.

  • Camtasia, all-in-one screen recorder and video editor - available in the App Store for a fee
  • Apple Pro Apps bundle for education:
    • Final Cut pro
    • Compressor
    • Motion
    • Logic Pro
  • iScreen Shoter, screen capture & text scanner - freely available in the App Store
  • and many more available in the App Store for free (try searching for ‘screen capture’, ‘video record’, etc.)

Team communication

Virtual meetings, video conferences, and remote collaboration have become our new daily routine. To keep the work efficient and the cooperation strong, we need tools that facilitate live interaction regardless of the distance.
Everyone has their preferences when it comes to remote communication with their team. I have been using Slack with my group since 2016. With a group of experienced bioinformaticians, this form of communication is fantastic as users can very quickly share their knowledge and answer each other’s questions. However, if you are the only expert in the group then it can be counterproductive as it becomes a direct conduit to ask you questions. I encourage the members of my group to try to figure out a problem on their own for an hour or two and if they still can’t figure it out then to send a slack message to the group to see if anyone else has a solution.
There is a wide range of free tools available for remote video communication and chatting.

  • TEAMS - included in the MS Office Suite
  • Slack - freely available in the App Store
    TIPS: The easiest way to reload your teams is to sign in on the slack website and then use your email to sign in for each team you want to be signed in on your desktop application.
  • Zoom - freely available in the App Store
    TIPS: Don’t forget to copy over your zoom backgrounds
  • Webex - freely available in the App Store

Password Manager

A password manager is strongly recommended. We have passwords now for everything from multiple emails (work, home) to University-related tasks (e.g., Workday) to our favorite social media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn) to our favorite way to relax (Apple TV, Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc.). Trying to remember all of these passwords is an impossible task unless you start reusing passwords which is a bad idea with the number of companies getting information hacked.
A password manager is a computer program that allows users to store, generate, and manage their passwords for local applications and online services. A password manager keeps everything organized, easy to find, and can generate long random passwords that are essentially impossible to break. With this solution, your passwords are encrypted and digitally secure. Consider the following options for your new MacBook Pro:

  • Dashlane - freely available in the App Store
  • OnePass - freely available in the App Store

TIPS: I personally use Dashlane, but I have heard great things about OnePass as well.

Web Browser Extensions

For Apple devices, Safari is the default built-in browser  Mac App Store . You can also install other browsers yourself, e.g., here you can find detailed installation instructions for Google Chrome on your Mac.
TIPS: If you are a web-developer, it is a good idea to have several different browsers to pre-test your implementations.

Have too many tabs open at once and don’t want to close them just in case you decide you will come back sometime later? Well, I have that problem too, and it slows down your computer. Instead, install the browser extension and have it save the entire window of tabs in a list that you can resummon with a click. For Safari it is useful to add a few extensions:

  • OneTab, allows you to save your session for later or reduce all tabs into one list - freely available in the App Store

Productivity Software

I have found the following programs really useful to streamline my workflows and better interact with my laptop and mouse.

  • Better Touch Tool - available as BetterSnapTool in the App Store for a small fee
    • software to customize different input devices like your mouse and trackpad and window snapping.
  • Alfred - freely available in the App Store
    • hotkeys, keywords, text expansion and more

Further Reading

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